Because I’m the external examiner for the new degree in performing arts based at University College Folkestone, I got the opportunity to have a morning walk along the seafront on Friday. Folkestone has been the lucky recipient of considerable private investment in the shape of local philanthropist Roger de Haan’s Creative Foundation; there’s an ambitious and brave plan to reinvent the town as ‘Creative Folkestone’ with massive investment in built environment, in artists premises and in education and training, including a new Academy, a performing arts centre and a university centre. Certainly the Coastal Park and the range of new places on offer are impressive enough – it seems like nicer place to live and visit than it was when we were there in the mid 1990s and the town is blessed with a great microclimate and fantastic links to Europe and the rest of the South East. But severe inequalities, divisions and difficulties remain, probably exacerbated by Kent’s antiquated policy of selecting out affluent and middle class kids and putting them in grammar schools.
The next few years will be critical for Folkestone’s regeneration. Perhaps the creative stuff will give it an edge, but in spite of a forthcoming high speed rail link to London I suspect that in these difficult economic times the town’s resilience will be sorely tested. Property prices are plummeting, and what really caught my eye was the strange erasure and the remaining traces of Jimmy Godden’s Rotunda Amusement Park, which mysteriously burned down a few years ago, the site bought up by Roger de Haan and now the subject of yet another masterplan – photos here, together with a video of the rollercoaster from the days when it worked.